23 September 2008


LACMA gets all the cool exhibits. Premiering October 26 is Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913–2008, showing works from the likes of Julian Broad, Cecil Beaton and the ubiquitous modern three - Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Annie Leibowitz.

The time frame in the title is misleading. (Or at least it was for me. Who knew that the magazine ceased to exist from 1936 to 1983?) The exhibit will feature photographs from the first era of the magazine (1913 - 1936), mostly devoted to those that appeared during Frank Crowninshield's tenure as Editor. He was the one who removed the "Dress" from the magazine's original title "Dress and Vanity Fair," and decided to make the entire endeavor more literary. It all sounds too mythical, but Crowninshield is said to have been "the most cultivated, elegant, and endearing man in publishing, if not Manhattan." (Is "in publishing" supposed to be a qualifier or further proof of his attributes?)

The tale continues...apparently he also introduced cubism to the American public, roomed with Conde Nast, and was responsible for pulling Dorthy Parker out of caption writing. In his Editor's Letter in the first issue of the magazine, he wrote that "young men and young women, full of courage, originality, and genius, are everywhere to be met with." Slightly different than the magazine we know and sometimes love today with its Hollywood issues, established writers, nude starlets and obsession with the Kennedy clan. Worry not though, the 1983 - Present era will be represented as well. Pregnant Demi Moore and Miley Cirus, anyone?

I am forever a sucker for Conde Nast photos, celebrity or not...probably against my better judgment.

Don't hate it because it's sponsored by Burberry, either, everyone needs sponsors. The funny thing is, besides mere association with what should be some great photographs and the semblance of glamor, Burberry's aesthetic has little to do with that of the exhibit. This would have been better served by Asprey.

Oh, and Liz Goldwyn will also be showing her documentary on burlesque, Pretty Things...which is supposed to somehow tie into the portraits. More on burlesque later, though.

21 September 2008

When Models Speak

Erin Wasson, compliments of Nylon TV.

"The people with the best style, for me, are the people that are the poorest. Like, when I go down to like Venice Beach and I see the homeless, I'm like, oh my god, you're pulling out like crazy looks. They pulled shit out of like garbage bags."

17 September 2008

The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world...

For most of my life, I've been enchanted by the idea of class. And really just one in particular. You know, the people who dress well, who go to parties that you weren't invited to where they are photographed for glossy magazines, who speak with flowery words and say things like "quite" and "darling," who have family estates, an Aristocratic lineage, and a fair amount of incest, drama and prescription drugs always lingering.

Well, actually, these people kind of only exist in books that I've read, most of which are satirizing the pretensions of this mythical class and the pathetic desperation of the poor souls trying to break in. The accounts are mostly funny, sometimes tragic, and occasionally rooted in reality. In fact, so much has been written about these folks that in many ways, the satirical accounts have come to standardize how the anglophiles, wasp lust-ers and social climbers of all sorts model their lives.

Class, as explained to me by James, Wharton, Waugh, Trollope and dozens of other authors, doesn't truly exist in the United States. The so-called establishment might have been the closest we came to anything like that, but you can bet that today, for the most part, any proclamation of old guard ties or authenticity is at best exaggerated. That's not to say that societal demarcations don't exist here - we've just developed a new currency that includes pure income, label flaunting (or lack thereof), beauty and celebrity.

But I guess this very American social structure isn't glamorous or entertaining enough. Celebrity is too easy follow, and maybe its randomness is infuriating to people trying to figure out the system. And lots of people are wealthy enough to afford all of those labels that show other people just how much you fit in and the products that make your lips puffier and your hair shinier....so income, beauty and labels are also kind of attainable. So what ELSE are we consumers to desire when most things are either at our disposal or easy to imitate with fakes. To be part of the class of people that most people have already concluded to be irrelevant? Sure! Why not? We wouldn't want girls in the fly over states having delusions of grandeur just because they can afford a silly bag. It's best to put them in their place.

Jimmy Stewart's character in The Philadelphia Story said it best: "The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world, is the privileged class enjoying its privileges." The irony was either lost on the studio executives or they were just too blinded by the easy sell to advertisers.

There's a certain element of escapism in watching wealth on film and television. It's unpleasant to think about financial matters, and oh, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to worry about rent or bills or stuffy jobs and could just go on with our charmed lives and fancy outfits, dealing with the more interesting stuff.

Most shows that I'm familiar with commit one of two financial flaws. The first is placing middle class people in situations and residences that are laughably unattainable for them and where the characters remain blissfully unaware of any financial realities. A few famous examples: the occasionally employed cast of Friends living in that large, clean Manhattan apartment, the ordinary family in Mrs. Doubtfire residing in Pacific Heights, and anything that ever happened in any Nora Ephron/Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film and Sex and the City.

The second offense is making wealth the reason for the show's existence and the basis of all plots. Which brings me (finally!) to my point: I'm done with the wealthy teen dramas. There are about five scenarios that repeat relentlessly and yet, more shows keep popping up with the same basic premise - outsiders trying to fit in amongst the privileged. Consider:

The OC: Blonde and handsome outsider from the wrong side of the tracks gets adopted by rich Orange County family, looks good in a suit and never goes back.

90210 v2.1: Kansians move to Beverly Hills and girl bakes cookies for crush. How embarrassing, you quaint little thing! But she's pretty and thin...with the right clothes she'll recover from this and other imminent social gaffes.

Gossip Girl: Watch what happens when the poverty stricken Brooklynites try to socialize with the Upper East Siders...dresses are stolen, lies are told, and arrangements are made with wealthy guy to lift girl's status and conceal guy's homosexuality.

Privileged: Pretty, struggling journalist takes a job tutoring spoiled Palm Beach teens, mingles with Palm Beach types!

The Hills: Los Angles, fake jobs, lots and lots and lots of talk about really boring relationships between really attractive people. Oh and they wear expensive things and go out a lot. At least the middle classes are spared humiliation in this one (I think...I've watched only one episode of this train wreck.)

All these shows really offer is a peek into lives of people you'll never know, who own things that you'll never own, and who seem to just be having a grand time with all of their pretty things. Heather Havrilesky of Salon.com does a wonderful job of explaining why this trend is so disconcerting.

"This isn't about catching a glimpse inside these magnificent spaces or getting an amusing glance at the silly excesses of a select few living in Manhattan or Palm Beach or Beverly Hills. This is an extended tour through the many concrete benefits and perks of life among the very rich....Kids without money demean themselves to keep up appearances, over and over again, while the rich kids blithely move through the world perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines....It's a perverse consumerist fable for young people, built on the notion that money provides the only sure escape from tension, stress and impending challenges.

Can these dramas -- which are made for young people, after all -- really be written off as harmless fun when so many of us aspire to throw money around like young barons and dukes with demonstrably tragic consequences for the entire country? As a growing percentage of families lose their homes and taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for the mortgage industry's indiscretions, while millionaire executives and private investors remain unscathed, should we feel so comfortable celebrating the growing divide between the haves and have-nots?"

The celebration of the advantages of these teenagers and 20-somethings is gratuitous, mainly because these shows have lost the gift of satire. All they do is flaunt the money and the things. In the best books on the subject (in my humble opinion) neither "side" comes out particularly well. All are exposed for their absurdities. I've heard that the Gossip Girl books are more Waugh-like than the show gives them credit for. Maybe I should give them a try.

And if satire is too complicated, give the teens another My So-Called Life, Wonderfalls or Freaks and Geeks. Depth and sincerity aren't that scary.

These shows, though, they'll make Becky Sharpes out of us all.

12 September 2008

What a prune!

The best writing so far on Fashion Week, compliments of Amelie Gillette:

"Phillip Lim's jacket is tres loquacious, while the shorts are oh so glampossible!"

11 September 2008

The Designer's Apprentice

Before jumping into the fashion week scene, I had to feature Sophie Theallet (I'm admittedly way behind on this one.) After reading about her in The Moment, I was immediately taken with her clothes - so much so that I went back and looked through all five of her collections over the past two years.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Fall 2008

I love the tension between the silk, the belts and the knits - somehow they work so well together (especially the sporty stripes on the sleeves of the grey sweater.)

Beyond the clothes, though, her biography was striking. Ms. Theallet is truly a learned designer who cut her teeth studying under some of the most accomplished and revered in the industry. As a promising young thing, she opted out of the self-label path and went to learn more, working first for Jean-Paul Gaultier and then for Azzedine Alaïa for over a decade. Finally in 2007, she launched her eponymous line, receiving instant praise for the designs. The media attention was also certainly fueled by her professional relationship with Alaïa, a designer who has an impeccable reputation in the fashion press for both her aesthetic and her craftsmanship.

I don't necessarily think that everyone in the arts needs to go through a tedious apprenticeship process before branching out on their own, but Ms. Theallet's story is a nice contrast to the Project Runway-type army of egos all out for their own glory and instant success (I'm talking about the 20 somethings, here.)

Patience and restraint, I like it.

Old Westbury Revisited

Harper's Bazaar, you have officially redeemed yourself from your disastrous September issue with October's cover.

Not only do I adore Kirsten Dunst, but I also am surprisingly not annoyed with the photographer blatantly channelling those iconic photos of C.Z. Guest. It's actually quite lovely.

Let's hope the contents live up to the promise of the cover though. But can I lobby to add "fabulous" to my list of banned style adjectives?

07 September 2008

Age of Innocence

Taylor Momsen is 15 years old. Forgive me if I sound a little prudish, but aren't these looks...a bit much?

I hardly care whether or not she has some sort of responsibility to be a role model. Attempts to control young stars to keep them publicly innocent often end disastrously (ahem, Britney) and the world loves redeemed wild childs (Drew Barrymore) so perhaps it's best to just let 'em go. But, yikes, Ms. Momsen is just so pretty and fresh faced, I'm curious who is making the decisions to go with the leather and the eyeliner. Is she trying to upstage her Gossip Girl co-stars? Maybe she is going along with the "real life party people" narrative that the producers so shamelessly feed the media. Whatever the reason - it's not a good look.

Granted, at age 13, I thought intense black eyeliner was a terrific idea and couldn't be convinced otherwise. Though, I'd like to think that if I'd had a staff of makeup artists, costume designers and studio executives all invested in my image that someone would take away the eyeliner and assure me that channeling Debbie Harry is only fun at costume parties.

Ok...so the first photo was from Fashion Rocks during Fashion Week which does relax standards. But I'm still bothered by her age, the attitude, the fact that a lot of people were involved in the decision to dress her like that and also that Debbie Harry was at the same damn party, who probably wanted to beat up the little twerp for shamelessly borrowing her look without even having the excuse of being a rock star in 1980 with a famous coke habit.

PS - does she look kind of drunk in the first photo?

04 September 2008

Copy Cat?

Jennifer Steinkamp, a new-media artist, New York Times Style tastemaker and occasional logo designer, is unveiling a new exhibit this weekend titled "Daisy Bell."

Soon after will come Jonathan Saunders for Target.

Similar, no?


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